An ‘Indulging’ Story

‘Indulge was my brainchild, and I intended it to be a café where you can treat yourself to some refreshment goodies’, responded Rafiq Rangoonwala, the CEO of Cupola to Mahmood Nanji’s query about why Indulge hasn’t lifted off still after all these years. It was MAP’s (Marketing Association of Pakistan) panel discussion being held at the Marriott.

‘However, I realized along the way that Pakistanis are prone to asking ‘Khaney mein kya hai’ when they visit a restaurant (they don’t differentiate between a café and a restaurant), so we had to change our initial positioning. Then we had a person looking after the brand who indulged himself more than the entity he was responsible for and that set us back’ revealed the Cupola CEO.

‘But we’re getting there gradually. We’ve expanded to 7 Indulge outlets in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Murree, and we’re going to go for ATL activities afetr opening No.10’.

It looks like Indulge is headed in the right direction after the initial bumpy ride. But I do have to agree with Mahmood Nanji that Indulge could have been a whole lot more. It still can be. It just needs a little fine tuning. Well, not just a little.

How? Not one to pass judgment without experiencing something myself, I went ahead and indulged myself in Indulge in additon to asking around what other people throught of this brand. I’m afraid what I’ve got to report isn’t great for the brand.

To begin with, Cupola’s CEO was right when he said that our people primiarily go to an eatery to stuff themselves and not for some light-hearted indulgence. A couple of years back a friend of mine said that Indulge didn’t have a ‘good enough’ menu and the only worthwhile thing was the Boston Burger, which is in line with the insight of the Cupola CEO.

Then a couple of days back I asked another friend of mine whether he had been at Indulge and what was his experience like. He said he had been at Indulge just once, had a terrible experience and had no intention of going back again. Recounting his experience, he said that he ordered a burger (he couldn’t remember the name) and his friend the club sandwich. He said while the burger was ordinary, the club sandwhich was so bad it even smelled. When complained, the manager at first defended it but then offered to serve another. But by then, they had lost their appetite and declined the offer since it took quite long to serve it the first time around, they didn’t want to be kept waiting again. So they left with the club sandwich untouched.

Now coming to my own experience. I didn’t get to encounter any smelly chick at least. However, I don’t have any great experience to report either. To begin with, the Indulge café that we visted was completely deserted on a Saturday Night. There was not a single soul (customer) in sight, and it remained that way till we left an hour later. That in itself does not augur well for the brand. Almost all the restaurants we’ve visited that wore a deserted look  have closed down irrespective of the quality of their offering. Some of the ones that we really enjoyed eating at but are no more are La Cucino, Shakes and Steaks, and Ecstasy. Therefore, you need to make customers come back for more through your marketing strategy. The taste and quality will only take you so far. Remember Al Ries’ adage that ‘Marketing is a battle of perceptions not products’.

The first thought that comes into any consumer’s mind when he enters a deserted store or restaurant is that something must be wrong with this place. Sometimes it morphes into a self-fulfilling prophecy that the experience will not turn out right after seeing the empty place and you feel justified that your first hunch was right after it actually doesn’t.

Okay, so the place was good enough as far as the layout and the ambience is concerned although the air-conditioning wasn’t working right. The food: we ordered Philly Steak Burger and All-Star Grilled Chicken Sandwich (croissant was used instead of the usual bread, which is a nice innovation).

The steak burger, well, there wasn’t any steak in it to begin with. There were just a few pieces of meat placed in it which according to one of my friends tasted like ‘Karhay Masala ka Qeema’. The croissant fared better.

Two cardinal sins of restaurateurship both these items committed were: one, they weren’t substantial enough; two, the meat filling failed to cover the entire bun or croissant i.e there were empty spaces in between.

You just can’t do that and get away with it, not in Pakistan anyway. Our Pakistani consumers may be dumb when it comes to protecting their rights against sub-standard products by negligent greedy corporations, but they sure can nano-analyze an eatery’s offerings and then make or break it.

Factor Value(1-10)
Taste 7
Quantity 6
Hygiene 9
Ambience 8
Privacy 7
Service 8
Accessibility of Location 10
Reviewed on 15th March 2009
Cost per person Rs. 200-400
Visit again? Possibly.
Verdict Needs to improve.

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